Having a presence on social media has become the norm to the point where it's strange if someone doesn't have any social media profiles. Of course, engaging in social media has some obvious benefits: many people get their news from it, it can help people stay in touch with far-flung friends and family, one can share their message with the world more easily and now businesses have taken advantage of the opportunities social media provides for marketing and outreach. However, in my opinion, the amount that the average Angelino uses and depends on social media these days has now become a detriment to optimal mental health and well-being. Aside from the obvious drawbacks of social media such as wasted time or lack of personal privacy, here are my reasons for why social media is having such a negative impact on our lives and why I encourage clients to reduce the amount of time spent on social media:
1 | You run on the validation treadmill
Of course it feels good to get a ton of "likes" on your status update or photo that you just posted – it gives you a little rush of feel-good hormones to know that people like what you have to say/what you did/how you look, etc. It's a natural human response to crave positive attention and compliments. However, there are some insidious drawbacks to this phenomenon. One is that we begin to constantly seek others' approval, as opposed to finding unconditional acceptance of ourselves. Another is that we may depend on these feelings of validation from others to the extent that if we don't have it, we feel badly about ourselves.
Lastly, over time, we begin to build a tolerance to the validation and require more and more to feel that boost in mood. Maybe a couple of years ago all it took was a few thumbs ups to experience a sense of satisfaction, but now you may find yourself thinking "Aw man, I only got 20 likes on my new profile photo." Do these signs of dependence, tolerance and withdrawal sound familiar to you? If so, you may have noticed that these are signs of an addiction! Yes, we are addicted to social media for our feelings of worthiness. I believe the only way to truly feel good about ourselves naturally without those social-media-induced ego boosts is to detox completely for a period of time.
2 | It encourages a false sense of connection
Remember what I said above about one of the positives of social media — that it helps us stay connected to others? Well, I believe that it actually distances us from people over time because A) we feel like we just saw that person because we read their most recent post and therefore don't need to call them or hang out with them B) we unconsciously resent many of our Facebook friends because we see them living their apparently perfect lives and think our life is inferior to theirs somehow and feel jealous and C) the connections we have on social media are so diffuse because when trying to connect with everyone, we end up truly connecting with no one.
It's a classic case of choosing quantity over quality. Personally, I'd rather have one great friend than 10 so-so friends and I'd rather have one great in-person conversation than 10 online chats with friends. When we depend on social media for social connection, we're essentially robbing ourselves of the opportunity to miss our friends and hang out with them in real life. Those in-person hang outs are where we get genuine joy and belonging from — not an online comment stream.
3 | It promotes a constant state of distraction
Because social media is a click away on our phones and computers (not to mention they're always dinging us for attention!) it's now easier than ever to live in a constant state of distraction. Standing in line at Starbucks? Look at your Facebook! Waiting at the doctor's office? Post on Twitter! Don't feel like sleeping? Scroll through Instagram for hours! We've become conditioned to actually fear the presence of our own feelings and body sensations. Even boredom has become something to avoid like the plague!
What if we didn't look at our phones while in line, but instead became observant of the smell of roasted coffee beans, or the tender interaction between the mother and her baby, or how cute the new barista looks trying to figure out the cash register? We might notice that the world around us is far more fascinating and rich than whatever is happening on Snapchat. We might actually feel something in the present moment.
We know how beneficial meditation is for our physical and mental well-being. And we can cultivate a meditative state at any time if we're willing to set the phone down and focus on now.
4 | It triggers "FOMO"
FOMO, if you're unfamiliar with the term, stands for "Fear of Missing Out." We all know this feeling — you're at home nursing a cold, an injury, a hangover, whatever it may be, and you (out of boredom and curiosity) checkout social media. Immediately you're bombarded with images, check-ins and posts about your friends at brunch, at the beach, at a vineyard, hiking Machu Picchu, wherever they are and suddenly you feel you're missing out on everything fun that's happening in life, while you're miserable and alone at home. When in reality, you've probably done all kinds of fun and cool things in your life (and most likely have many to come,) you just don't happen to be doing them right now. And that's perfectly fine. You are exactly where you need to be — at home resting. And if you'd decided to pick up a book instead of the electronic, you wouldn't be having these feelings and this inferiority complex.
5 | It breeds comparison
When we see what other people are doing all the time, it naturally puts pressure on us to "measure up" to our peers. If we see people out all the time, we might start to think we're total home bodies (hey, nothing wrong with that!), if we see people traveling all the time, we may think we're totally broke and should make more money, if we see people looking gorgeous and thin, we make think we need to change our appearance in some way. But these are all false beliefs!
What other people are doing doesn't need to have any impact on what we're doing or how we feel about ourselves. We don't need to one-up anyone. Social media is a breeding ground for comparison, which is not helpful for our self-concept. No one can compare to us because each of us has a unique history, values, goals and a way of going through our lives. As Teddy Roosevelt so aptly put it "comparison is the thief of joy."
6 | It clouds authenticity
Let's face it — Facebook is not an accurate, thorough representation of people's lives. People do not just go hiking all the time and drink bottomless mimosas all day. Life is full of upset, work, challenge, minutia, unpredictability, chaos, driving, sleeping, laundry and everything else. But only a small sliver of life is shared on social media. We tend to share our biggest achievements, the fun weekend activities, birthdays, the most amazing burger we've ever had and the occasional passing of a loved one.
Rarely do we see people's innermost thoughts, feelings, fears and vulnerabilities. And for good reason! Facebook is not an appropriate forum for this kind of disclosure. But in our selective sharing — in our careful shaping of others' perception of us — we are distorting our true selves...we are not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to be truly seen and known, to be accepted as we are. We're further exposing what is already in the light and further rejecting what is in the shadows.
7 | It heightens anxiety
Social media is absolutely anxiety-provoking! Not only do we feel pressured to keep up with what's happening, but we can also feel like we need to post what we're doing for fear of seeming like we have nothing going on — the whole "if you didn't post about it, it didn't happen" concept. Not to mention the fact that social media is part of the 24-hour news cycle, exposing us on the regular to all kinds of tragedy happening all over the world. There's enough in life to be anxious about without adding social media to the heap. The solution? Logging off of social media and logging into the present moment. Actually enjoy the moment without feeling the need to tell the world about it. Your experience is valid whether or not ten bazillion people think it is, too.
With all this said, you may wonder, "do I have social media accounts?" The answer is "no, not really." I keep a Google business listing, a couple of business networking accounts (like Alignable and Meetup) to connect with other health professionals, YouTube and Vimeo channels to share videos about mental health, and a Bloglovin' account so people can follow the blog. I decided to first delete all of my personal social media accounts to deal with my own validation issues and then when I started my psychotherapy private practice, initially decided to use social media again for professional purposes, however quickly realized that the drawbacks were outweighing the potential benefits, and deleted those as well Since being off of social media I feel much less pressure to prove anything to others, I feel more connected to the people in my life who truly matter and, most importantly, I feel more present to myself in daily life.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Did any of this resonate? Did you completely disagree and have a totally different relationship with social media than I presented here? I’d love to learn about your experience in the comments below. Thank you!
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.